Thursday, September 25, 2014

How Low Will They Go?

How Low Will They Go?
By Jill Jenkins

            Schools are made up of many support people: bus drivers, secretaries, custodians, cafeteria managers, cafeteria helpers, teacher aids and many others.  Most of these positions in the past were modest paying jobs that included benefits like health insurance.  To save money, many districts have made these positions part time relieving themselves of both health insurance expenses and retirement expenses.  The problem some districts are facing is how do districts find enough qualified employees who are willing to work under these conditions?

            Take for example cafeteria workers.  One of my friends manages a high school cafeteria and is responsible for hiring two-hour cafeteria workers.  Not only do these workers earn minimum wage, but need to pay $60.00 to be fingerprinted for a background check and purchase their own uniform.  In exchange, they can work two hours a day, five days a week for nine months out of the year.  At that rate, they will work for free for several weeks to pay for their background check and their uniform.  As a result, it is getting difficult to find employees to fill these openings. 
            Bus drivers also are only paid part time, but since they too must pay for a uniform and a background check and keep a Commercial Drivers License current, they have added expenses.  Furthermore, many of them decide to take a more lucrative position with trucking companies or local bus companies.  Some school districts have decided to contract with private bus companies to circumvent  the entire problem, but those drivers are rarely fingerprinted which means they are not meeting state guidelines.  As a result of the shortage of qualified drivers, students are often late to school because the districts have insufficient drivers.
            Custodians are equally as difficult to keep.  Last year, at the school in which I was teaching, the night custodian quit.  Because the district couldn’t find a replacement, for several months, students-sweepers cleaned our room bereft of an adult supervisor.  I bet you can imagine how sparkling clean they were.  Finding good help is difficult when the help is not appropriately compensated for their time.  Still, the program saves the district money.
            Substitute teachers used to be the job for retired teachers trying to augment their retirement, or teachers looking for an opening.  Most districts did not pay substitutes benefits, but a substitute often earned $80.00 to $100.00 a day. If they substituted daily, a substitute could earn from $400 to $500 a week minus taxes.  However, with the new guidelines, if they substitute every day they would be entitled to health insurance and the district doesn’t want to pay health insurance on them, so they can only work two to three days a week.  Retired teachers are not allowed to substitute for the first year of retirement without losing their retirement benefits.  As a result, there is a shortage of substitutes.  This means that teachers who have a consultation periods are used to substitute for the substitute the district could not find and earn an extra $10 or $20.  That should make everyone happy, right?

            Secretaries were the greatest support staff.  Currently there is only one secretary in the school who works full-time.  As a result, some of the paperwork that used to be delegated to the secretarial staff is either being piled on the principal’s secretary or distributed to the teaching staff. Some full time jobs are simply handled by asking the employee to complete the same amount of work in half the time. These employees are stressed and are often deprived of even bathroom breaks to complete the tasks assigned. Other work is reassigned to teachers to complete.  Ever wonder why the teachers’ cars are in the parking lot long before school, long after school and sometimes on weekends?  Somebody’s got to do it.

             Maybe the school districts need to take a lesson from Henry Ford.   According to the Ford Motor Company, “In 1914, Henry Ford started an industrial revolution by more than doubling wages to $5 a day—a move that helped build the U.S. middle class and the modern economy. ”  At that time, these were unheard of salaries, but Henry Ford wanted to create a loyal labor team that he could depend on to meet the demand for the Model T.  He did it.  Perhaps districts could also create a stable work staff if they were willing to offer them full-time pay and benefits.  How low will they go? If the district is so worried about finances, how long you think it will be before they make teachers work part time and lose their benefits?  Better yet, all of students could stay home and take school on their Smart Phones.  I am sure there is an app for that.